We Could Be Witnessing the Death of the Fossil Fuel Industry—Will It Take the Rest of the Economy Down With It?

Source: AlterNet

Author:Nafiz Ahmed

Emphasis Mine

It’s not looking good for the global fossil fuel industry. Although the world remains heavily dependent on oil, coal and natural gas—which today supply around 80 percent of our primary energy needs—the industry is rapidly crumbling.

This is not merely a temporary blip, but a symptom of a deeper, long-term process related to global capitalism’s escalating over consumption of planetary resources and raw materials.

New scientific research shows that the growing crisis of profitability facing fossil fuel industries is part of an inevitable period of transition to a post-carbon era.

But ongoing denialism has led powerful vested interests to continue clinging blindly to their faith in fossil fuels, with increasingly devastating and unpredictable consequences for the environment.

Bankruptcy epidemic

In February, the financial services firm Deloitte predicted that over 35 percent of independent oil companies worldwide are likely to declare bankruptcy, potentially followed by a further 30 percent next year—a total of 65 percent of oil firms around the world. Since early last year, already 50 North American oil and gas producers have filed bankruptcy.

The cause of the crisis is the dramatic drop in oil prices—down by two-thirds since 2014—which are so low that oil companies are finding it difficult to generate enough revenue to cover the high costs of production, while also repaying their loans.

Oil and gas companies most at risk are those with the largest debt burden. And that burden is huge—as much as $2.5 trillion, according to The Economist. The real figure is probably higher.

At a speech at the London School of Economics in February, Jaime Caruana of the Bank for International Settlements said that outstanding loans and bonds for the oil and gas industry had almost tripled between 2006 and 2014 to a total of $3 trillion.

This massive debt burden, he explained, has put the industry in a double-bind: In order to service the debt, they are continuing to produce more oil for sale, but that only contributes to lower market prices. Decreased oil revenues means less capacity to repay the debt, thus increasing the likelihood of default.

Stranded assets

This $3 trillion of debt is at risk because it was supposed to generate a 3-to-1 increase in value, but instead—thanks to the oil price decline—represents a value of less than half of this.

Worse, according to a Goldman Sachs study quietly published in December last year, as much as $1 trillion of investments in future oil projects around the world are unprofitable; i.e., effectively stranded.

Examining 400 of the world’s largest new oil and gas fields (except U.S. shale), the Goldman study found that $930 billion worth of projects (more than two-thirds) are unprofitable at Brent crude prices below $70. (Prices are now well below that.)

The collapse of these projects due to unprofitability would result in the loss of oil and gas production equivalent to a colossal 8 percent of current global demand. If that happens, suddenly or otherwise, it would wreck the global economy.

The Goldman analysis was based purely on the internal dynamics of the industry. A further issue is that internationally-recognized climate change risks mean that to avert dangerous global warming, much of the world’s remaining fossil fuel resources cannot be burned.

All of this is leading investors to question the wisdom of their investments, given fears that much of the assets that the oil, gas and coal industries use to estimate their own worth could consist of resources that will never ultimately be used.

The Carbon Tracker Initiative, which analyzes carbon investment risks, points out that over the next decade, fossil fuel companies risk wasting up to $2.2 trillion of investments in new projects that could turn out to be “uneconomic” in the face of international climate mitigation policies.

More and more fossil fuel industry shareholders are pressuring energy companies to stop investing in exploration for fear that new projects could become worthless due to climate risks.

Clean technology and climate policy are already reducing fossil fuel demand,” said James Leaton, head of research at Carbon Tracker. “Misreading these trends will destroy shareholder value. Companies need to apply 2C stress tests to their business models now.”

The end of cheap oil

Behind the crisis of oil’s profitability that threatens the entire global economy is a geophysical crisis in the availability of cheap oil. Cheap here does not refer simply to the market price of oil, but the total cost of production. More specifically, it refers to the value of energy.

There is a precise scientific measure for this, virtually unknown in conventional economic and financial circles, known as Energy Return on Investment—which essentially quantifies the amount of energy extracted, compared to the inputs of energy needed to conduct the extraction. The concept of EROI was first proposed and developed by Professor Charles A. Hall of the Department of Environmental and Forest Biology at the State University of New York. He found that an approximate EROI value for any energy source could be calculated by dividing the quantity of energy produced by the amount of energy inputted into the production process.

To read more, see below…


Climate science deniers unable to comprehend scientific study!

Source: ThinkProgress

Author: Joe Room

Emphasis Mine

Climate Science Deniers Unable To Comprehend Scientific Study

Arctic sea ice


Arctic sea ice extent as of May 5, 2015, along with daily ice extent data for four previous years (2015 is shown in blue). We have set many records for low sea ice this year so far.

A new study by scientists at Scripps Institution of Oceanography finds that the Arctic sea may go ice free in the summer faster than previous models had projected. Somehow climate deniers took this to mean something completely different.

Comprehensive global climate models (GCMs) had projected the complete loss of summer ice to occur at 4°C of annual warming in the northern hemisphere. The Scripps scientists developed a more complete model than the GCMs, and found, “The model becomes seasonally ice-free at 2°C of warming.”

Climate science deniers, such as those at the website “Daily Caller,” are touting this study because they think it says the Arctic will soon reverse its death spiral. But as the study’s actual authors confirmed to me, “In short, what you write here regarding our study is correct, and the Daily Caller article that you link to is incorrect.”

The Daily Caller writes, “But new research from the Scripps Institution of Oceanography says that predictions of an ice-free Arctic are based on ‘oversimplified’ theories.” That isn’t what the study says that all, as noted above. In fact, the very first line of the study says, “Arctic sea ice is undergoing a striking, closely monitored, and highly publicized decline.”

While I was accessing the Daily Caller story, “‘Irreversible’ Arctic Ice Loss Seems To Be Reversing Itself,” I got a pop-up:

Yes, it is true the Daily Caller’s version “doesn’t fit the liberal media’s narrative,” mostly because the “liberal media” tries to get the story right.

That the deniers are wrong is no surprise, but why are they so confused? Well, the Scripps news release is not written very clearly, especially the headlines. So if you don’t read the whole release, and if you don’t actually read the study or talk to the authors — and if you are prone to getting things wrong in general — well, you’ll definitely mess up this kind of story about climate science.

The most important part of the release — in fact the only part of the release that is actually both clear and important — is the final paragraph, which quotes the lead author, Dr. Till Wagner:

“Our results show that the basis for a sea ice tipping point doesn’t hold up when these additional processes are considered,” said Wagner. “In other words, no tipping point is likely to devour what’s left of the Arctic summer sea ice. So if global warming does soon melt all the Arctic sea ice, at least we can expect to get it back if we somehow manage to cool the planet back down again.”

The interesting conclusion from the study from the scientists’ viewpoint (and Scripps’) was that a more sophisticated model of the Arctic found that contrary to previous models, the ice loss is not, technically, irreversible. If you could somehow reverse temperatures on the earth, the ice would come back. But in practice it is all but impossible to get temperatures back down again.

Heck, we’ve got another 1° Fahrenheit baked in just because it takes a while for the climate system to come into equilibrium. And unless we cut global greenhouse gas emissions to zero by mid-century, we can’t avoid another 1°F after that. And, unless we stop listening to climate science deniers like those at the Daily Caller, we will add another 5°F or more after that. Bye bye summer ice and possibly virtually all the ice year-round!

The scientific literature is quite clear that warming-driven temperature rise is irreversible on a time scale of centuries. As the world’s top scientists explained in November in their final IPCC synthesis report summarizing the scientific literature: “Surface temperatures will remain approximately constant at elevated levels for many centuries after a complete cessation of net anthropogenic CO2 emissions”!

In spite of that reality, the Scripps headline is “Research Highlight: Arctic Sea Ice Loss Likely To Be Reversible.” The sub-hed is “Scenarios of a sea ice tipping point leading to a permanently ice-free Arctic Ocean were based on oversimplified arguments.”

Bad and worse.

A more accurate headline would be “Arctic Sea Ice Loss Reversible — But Only In Theory.” Not a great headline but at least it avoids the impression that Arctic sea ice loss is likely to be reversed when it isn’t.

The sub-hed is simply so torturously written as to be unfixable. Most people might think that a “tipping point” is the point beyond which — in the real world — the Arctic death spiral is unstoppable. In the real world, we are at or very close to that point. For the authors and Scripps, “tipping point” is a technical term meaning the point beyond which a change is theoretically irreversible. In that sense, again, the Arctic sea isn’t “permanently” ice free since we could — in theory — cool the planet back down to the temperatures of last century and the ice would come back. But as the IPCC literature summary makes clear, it would take super-aggressive climate action starting ASAP — precisely what the deniers oppose — to even have a shot at stabilizing sea ice near current levels.

One final note, while their model finds the Arctic “becomes seasonally ice-free at 2°C of warming,” the authors explained to me “Our model is pretty idealized, so a factor of 2 in the sensitivity is expected to be well within the uncertainty.” In theory, then, the Arctic might not become ice free until warming hits 4°C. Then again, it could become ice free before warming hits 2°C. Given that we have warmed under 1°C, and we’ve already lost the overwhelming majority of Arctic sea ice volume at the summer minimum, it seems increasingly likely sensitivity is actually below 2°C.


Climate Change: If we pretend it isn’t happening, will it go away?

Source: Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists

Author: Lawrence Krauss

I happened to be in Canberra last week as the Australian government repealed its tax on carbon emissions, which has required the country’s biggest emitters to pay as much as 25 Australian dollars (about $23.50, US) per metric ton of carbon dioxide spewed into the atmosphere. With the vote in the Australian Senate, following a previous vote in the House of Representatives, Australia—one of the world’s largest per capita emitters of carbon—moved from being well ahead of the international curve to the back of the pack when it comes to reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

The climate change debate that has raged in the public forum in Australia—and, in similar form, in the United States—has unfortunately been governed more by politics, ideology, and money than by facts. For example, much to my dismay, after appearing on a television program in Australia, on which I ended up debating a senator from the governing Liberal Party on issues that included climate change, I offered to come to his office to show him data on climate trends, including sea level rise and ocean acidification, with the hope that the data might affect the policies he advocated. He told me that he wasn’t interested in such a discussion, because he had a constituency that supported his current opposition to carbon emission controls, and that is what mattered to him.

Of course, as a scientist, I feel particularly strongly that the public is ill served by politicians who ignore empirical evidence while making and speaking out on policy. But as the dramatic Australian vote made news worldwide, another, less-publicized set of legislative actions took place in the United States, and they could wind up being even more insidious than the Australian climate change retreat. Rather than ignore the science associated with climate change predictions, one house of the US Congress attempted to ensure that the appropriate science on climate change would simply be discontinued.

On July 10, the House approved the fiscal 2015 Energy and Water Appropriations bill on a 253-170 vote. In the bill, Congress unfortunately cut funding for such things as renewable energy, sustainable transportation, and energy efficiency; perhaps even more worrisome, however, were a series of amendments successfully attached to the bill. Each would, in its own way, specifically prohibit scientists at the Energy Department from doing precisely what Congress should mandate them to do—namely perform the best possible scientific research to illuminate, for policymakers, the likelihood and possible consequences of climate change.

Oklahoma Republican Congressman James Lankford’s amendment prohibited funding for “proposing or implementing any executive order related to the ‘social cost of carbon.'” In this way, the Energy Department would presumably be prohibited from embarking on studies that might calculate the possible benefits of legislation that limits carbon dioxide emissions or the economic risks associated with climate change.

A second amendment by Arizona Republican Paul Gosar prohibited funding for the Energy Department’s Climate Model Development and Validation program. One of the things that climate change deniers often pull out of their hats when arguing against acting to stem climate change is a claimed skepticism about the validity of existing climate models. I have recently countered one such skeptic on television here in Australia by accepting this skepticism—and then challenging him to present what his models predicted.  (Of course he didn’t have any).  The point was not merely rhetorical. If there is serious concern about the robustness of ongoing climate modeling, it is inconsistent with a desire to prohibit scientists from being able to improve their models.

A third science-defunding amendment, this time pushed by West Virginia Republican David McKinley, would prohibit the Energy Department from supporting climate change activities associated with the National Climate Assessment and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report. 
That’s right: The Energy Department would be prohibited from responding to the two landmark reports that reflect the best international scientific scholarship available on climate modeling and the possible impacts of human greenhouse gas production, locally, nationally, and internationally.

It is one thing to decide, as the Australian government has sadly done, that short-term political expediency trumps long-term policy goals when it comes to reducing the impact of climate change. It is another, however, to decide that the very possibility of human-induced climate change is so contrary to what one would like to believe—that scientific activities capable of producing factual results running counter to this belief are so threatening—that any such science should be prohibited.

The House appropriations bill is not likely to become law in its current form. The White House has already signaled its intent to veto the bill; the Senate would undoubtedly require changes before the bill came anywhere close to the president’s signing desk. Still, the intent of these amendments, and the fact that they could pass a house of Congress, should concern everyone interested in the appropriate support of scientific research as a basis for sound public policy. The analogy of an ostrich burying its head in the sand to avoid danger is clichéd but, even so, particularly appropriate to this case. An ostrich that buried its head in the sand on an ocean beach would seem particularly poorly situated to avoid a possibly rising tide. Sillier still: The ostrich that, with its head underground, refused to allow others to keep watch, to see if the tide comes in.

Emphasis Mine

See: http://thebulletin.org/climate-change-if-we-pretend-it-isn%E2%80%99t-happening-will-it-go-away7333

Journalistic Malpractice: The Media Enables the Right-Wing Politicization of Science

Source: The Nation, via AlterNet

Author: Reed Richardson

We’re at a particularly hyper-partisan moment in our country. As such, one would think the existence of a scientific consensus on a policy issue would offer the mainstream media a welcome oasis from the mirage of social media myths and the desert of dueling soundbites that all too often crowd out informed comment. Using such a consensus as a no bullshit baseline, an objective journalist could more honestly explore opposing arguments, measure them against evidence, and judge their veracity. This is no small thing, because if modern journalism is to continue to live up to its Constitutional promise, it can’t merely be about telling the who, what,when and where of the world any more, it must go beyond that to explain the how and why.

But time and again, the establishment media fails at reaching this higher bar. Instead of contextualizing policy debates by weaving in extant scientific knowledge or academic research, the national press all too readily churns out formulaic stories filled with superficial horserace reporting. A press corps so consistently unmoored from facts becomes very vulnerable, however, when one of our nation’s two political parties undertakes a proverbial war on science. With very little effort, policy debates can get hijacked and devolve from discussing relevant facts to lobbing ad hominem insults. This simple-minded journalistic approach renders the underlying science of any issue moot. But it’s a safer career move, since it just wouldn’t do well for an “objective” journalist to always be pointing out that, on issue after issue, one party has become fully detached from scientific reality. In a “both sides do it” media culture, no party or ideology can ever lose legitimacy, no matter how crackpot its ideas about how the world works.

Exhibit A in the mainstream media’s failure to execute this due diligence is its consistently ill-informed climate change coverage. Even though an overwhelming majority of climate scientists agree that global warming is real and man-made, the media rarely, if ever, treats this mountain of evidence as a given. Instead, it treats this reality very much like a battle of opinions or, more accurately, of belief systems: Liberals believe in climate change, conservatives don’t. Climate change is not an ideological principle or a policy outcome about which reasonable people can disagree, though; it’s an observable phenomenon. So when the media enables anyone to deny the existence of climate change, it is tantamount to journalistic malpractice.

Nevertheless, this malpractice happens every single day. Whether pigeonholing global warming as a niche topic,soliciting denialist voices and granting them an outsized platform, or outright disappearing of the crisis, the press regularly plays into conservatives’ hands, helping them manufacture dissent and sow confusion amongst the public even though none exists in the scientific community. Among Tea Partiers, disbelief in anthropogenic climate change has become something of an article of faith, so much so that, contra the parable of Noah, no amount of catastrophic warnings can change their stubborn minds. And in much the same way that Pope Urban VIII’s Vatican concocted an “investigation” to disprove Galileo’s proof of a sun-centered solar system, right-wing denialists have cooked up numerous alternative climate change theories that neatly conform to their worldview, but which all fall apart under scientific scrutiny.

The public policy ramifications of this media failure hit home again this past Monday. That’s when the Roberts Court’s conservative majority ruled in favor of Hobby Lobby, a craft retailer that sued the federal government for infringing on its religious freedom. At the core of the company’s objections was its claim that four of the 20 methods of contraception mandated by the Afforable Care Act are abortifacients (i.e. they terminate an in-progress pregnancy).

The good news: just like climate change, there was an overwhelming scientific consensus about this claim. Let’s be totally clear—the idea that IUDs and morning-after pills are abortifacients is clearly rejected by medical science. And no less than the Food and Drug Administration, the National Institute of Health, the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, the American Medical Association, and the Mayo Clinic agree. To all of these organizations, to whom we trust to regulate, advise, and train our nation’s professional healthcare providers, pregnancy begins when a fertilized egg is successfully implanted in the uterus, so IUDs and Plan B morning-after pills are contraceptives. Full stop. So, case dismissed, right?

The bad news, of course, was that there was an overwhelming scientific consensus about this claim, and just like with climate change, conservatives on the court simply didn’t care. Never mind that the medical facts in the case strongly suggested Hobby Lobby had no real standing to sue in the first place. In fact, on page 9 of Justice Alito’s majority ruling, we find this inconvenient truth conveniently tucked away down in a footnote:

“The owners of the companies involved in these cases and others who believe that life begins at conception regard these four methods as causing abortions, but federal regulations, which define pregnancy as beginning at implantation.”

The whole Hobby Lobby case, in other words, was built upon a willfully accepted fallacy. Monday’s Supreme Court decision wasn’t a victory for religious freedom over the government as much it was a triumph of religious belief over science. (There’s also rank hypocrisy and disingenuousness at work here as well. Hobby Lobby’s employee retirement plan invests in the very pharmaceutical companies that make emergency contraception. And up until two years ago,Hobby Lobby’s health insurance plan actually offered IUDs and Plan B. Only after being contacted by a right-wing legal group—hunting for a proxy in their fight to weaken Obamacar—did the company conveniently discover its religious objection.)

Nevertheless, right-wing and “pro-life” supporters have so successfully muddied the facts about contraception, the press demonstrated little interest in correcting them. Case in point, the New York Times’ big, lead story on the decision, which whistled right past the plaintiff’s key claim:

“The health care law and related regulations require many employers to provide female workers with comprehensive insurance coverage for a variety of methods of contraception. The companies objected to some of the methods. “No one has disputed the sincerity of their religious beliefs,” Justice Alito wrote. The dissenters agreed.

“The companies said they had no objection to some forms of contraception, including condoms, diaphragms, sponges, several kinds of birth control pills and sterilization surgery. Justice Ginsburg wrote that other companies may object to all contraception, and that the ruling would seem to allow them to opt out of any contraception coverage.”

Notice something missing here? For some reason, the Times tells us all about which specific contraceptives Hobby Lobby doesn’t object to, but we never learn which ones they do object to, and more importantly, why, and if their objections had any scientific merit.

The Washington Post’s Supreme Court write-up at least included more specifics than the Times, but its scattershot approach leads it to fall back into the same old false equivalence framing:

“Some businesses object to offering contraception at all, while others, like the companies that brought the challenge to the Supreme Court, say offering certain types of birth control, such as IUDs, make them complicit in abortion.”

[…11 paragraphs later…]

“In this case, the companies’ owners say that four of the 20 contraceptives approved by the FDA work after an egg has been fertilized and thus are abortifacients. While many, if not most, doctors and scientists disagree, Alito said the point is that the owners believe offering such services—such as the morning-after pill and IUDs—violates their religious faiths.”

Notice, again, how Alito’s whole justification for ruling against Obamacare rests upon what the Hobby Lobby owners believe. Does the Post pushback on this citing expert medical analysis? Does it point out a lot of people believe a lot of crazy things with no basis in fact but they still don’t merit a judicial carve-out from federal health regulations. Not really. It equivocates with “many, if not most doctors and scientists disagree,” an intentionally squishy qualifier that offers little more than the pretense of context.

Tellingly, mainstream media coverage, overall, wasn’t much better than Fox News. This was how they didn’t get it right: “Dozens of companies, including Hobby Lobby, claim religious objections to covering some or all contraceptives. The methods and devices at issue before the Supreme Court were those the plaintiffs say can work after conception.” In fact, the latest research suggests that IUDs and Plan B actually don’t work after conception. But even if they do, it’s important to remember that the scientific consensus clearly says that preventing a fertilized egg from implanting is not an abortion. In fact, the Affordable Care Act is explicitly forbidden from funding coverage for abortions. That “dozens of companies” are making—or, more precisely, making up—an argument to the contrary shouldn’t be worth a bucket of warm spit when it comes to crafting public health policy.

This doesn’t stop some conservatives from trying to have it both ways—to both dismiss scientific consensus while pretending its on their side. Back in May, for example, GOP Senator Marco Rubio even went so far as to claim the “science is settled” that life begins at conception. No sir.Others on the right have tried to polarize the medical definition of pregnancy, claiming it is “an odd insistence” of “the Left” without mentioning all the nonpartisan medical professional organizations that endorse this same conclusion. Getting points for chutzpah and projection, one obtuse conservative snarkily dinged the “anti-Science Left” for failing to recognize that you can’t produce a life without a fertilized egg. Of course, you can’t produce life beyond a few cells unless that fertilized egg is implanted in a woman’s uterus, but then disappearing women out of the discussion of contraceptive choice and reproductive rights is another common tactic among the right. On a related note, Alito’s 49-page opinion only mentioned “woman” or “women” 13 times.

By failing to honestly address the science at the root of the Hobby Lobby case, the media has fallen for the same old conservative spin that, for years, has also corrupted its climate change coverage. In a way, it mirrors the actions of the Roberts Court’s conservative majority, which similarly granted greater weight to the plaintiffs’ religious interpretation of medical science than to actual medical science itself. Sadly, this brazen act of judicial corporate activism was compounded by a tragic failure of explanatory journalism. And thanks to the latter, the public is less informed about broad consequences of the former. As now almost anyone—or anything, for that matter—can construct a so-called religious freedom if science and the evidentiary process need not be involved in defining the boundaries of said freedoms.

The Hobby Lobby case has set us upon a dangerously slippery legal slope. By endowing for-profit companies with unprecedented rights over their employees and unheard of freedoms from federal regulations, conservatives have set the conditions for future corporate discrimination as well as delegitimization of the government. But it is also a broader, cautionary tale about how poorly the mainstream media holds conservatives accountable for their often specious scientific claims. Facts are the most precious currency of journalists, but if they aren’t willing to speak scientific truth to power—whether it’s on reproductive rights or evolution or climate change—it’s not just the press’s reputation that suffers. We all do. 

Emphasis Mine

see: http://www.alternet.org/environment/journalistic-malpractice-media-enables-right-wing-politicization-science?akid=12036.123424.C4BKaG&rd=1&src=newsletter1012131&t=9

Neil deGrasse Tyson: When the rich start losing money, they’ll take climate change seriously


Source: RawStory

Author: Arturo Garcia

(N.B.: Climate Change Denial is an example of what happens when we fail to separate church and state…)

“Astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson characterized the nay saying surrounding climate change as par for the course in footage aired on Monday from his interview with MSNBC host Chris Hayes,

“The evidence will show up when they need more evidence,” deGrasse Tyson told Hayes. “More storms, more coastlines getting lost. People beginning to lose their wealth. People, if they begin to lose their wealth, they change their mind real fast, I’ve found — particularly in a capitalist culture.”

In the interview, which was filmed last week in New York City, the Cosmos host said that denial of scientific truths generally goes through three stages: First, skeptics say it can’t be true. Then, they say it contradicts the Bible. Finally, they admit the clues were there all along.

But regardless of how the world’s climate patterns evolve, deGrasse Tyson added, humanity would still carry on, though facing different temperatures than it has experienced for the past 1,000 years.

“Yes, there were storms,” deGrasse Tyson explained. “But in the mix of things, you had some assurances. It’s remarkably stable, given the fluctuations that had existed previously in the history of the world. When the dinosaurs were here, there were no polar ice caps. Talk about global warming — it was really warm when the dinosaurs were here.”

To “wake people,” he continued, he asks them how high the sea levels will be if the ice caps melt away, a scenario he said reminds him of the destruction Charleton Heston confronted in the original Planet of the Apes film series.

“[They say], ‘Oh, maybe a couple of feet,’” deGrasse Tyson told Hayes. “No, it would come up to the Statue of Liberty’s elbow — the one that’s holding the Declaration of Independence. That’s how high the water line will be.””

Emphasis Mine

See: http://www.rawstory.com/rs/2014/06/02/neil-degrasse-tyson-when-the-rich-start-losing-money-theyll-take-climate-change-seriously/

Is Not Knowing Something A Sign of Weakness? Creationists Think So

Source: AlterNet

Author: Dan Arel

Those who reject science frown upon intellectual honesty. Not knowing how something works or happened is seen as a weakness. This week on Cosmos, Neil deGrasse Tyson said the word “somehow” when describing how the origins of life began, saying, “Somehow, carbon-rich molecules began using energy to make copies of themselves.”

Creationists think they “got him!” Tyson, like all other scientists, is not sure exactly how life originated on earth. This is intellectually honest, since a great mystery is still being worked out. Many great hypotheses exist, some of which Tyson went into detail about,but how can not knowing something be a weakness? Surely all of us don’t know a great deal of things; are we all intellectually challenged?

The real answer is no, the real knowledge is accepting that there are things you don’t know. If you claim to have all the answers, as creationists love to do, you are being dishonest. There is no wisdom in pretending to know things you do not know.

One hypothesis Tyson spent a great deal of time on is called panspermia. Again, this is nothing but a hypothesis with an okay amount of evidence being collected and studied. The Mars Rover is one major example of our study of the origins of life.

Of course, the anti-science fellows over at the Discovery Institute take issue:

“After some passing references to Earth-based models of the origin of life (which of course omit any mention of intelligent design as a possibility), Tyson devotes two lengthy segments of the episode to panspermia — the idea that life arrived on Earth from space — and the existence of alien life.”

However this is not what Tyson said, nor suggested. He briefly brushed over the idea that life could have originated on a planet like Mars and been carried to earth during a massive impact in the distant past, but he didn’t stay here long and moved onto a more plausible explanation. Of course, creationists stopped listening here.

Tyson seems to come back to saying life originated on earth and then gives a great explanation for it surviving so many extinction-causing impacts on earth, explaining that life could have been shot into space on rocks. We have evidence to suggest microbial life can do a very fine job of surviving such a journey, and eventually these rocks can find themselves impacting with earth again, bringing life back to the planet.

Here is a key part creationists missed: Tyson never once made the claim these are scientific facts, just that they are reasonable explanations. The Discovery Institute took immediate issue with Tyson never suggesting life was intelligently created on earth, but why would he? What scientific basis does that fall under? They find it a stretch that life can originate on its own, yet they can concede that some invisible being can just randomly create life.

Every single suggestion Tyson put forward in this episode has some reasonable amount of scientific data behind it to make it worth mentioning. The scientific evidence that a god created anything, or even exists, is zero.

While panspermia is not the be-all-end-all of scientific explanations for the origins of life, Tyson is proposing that viewers open up their imaginations to all the possibilities of nature. If every event after the origin of life has a natural explanation, it is more than reasonable and logical to assume that events before do as well.

The folks at the Discovery Institute also took strong issue with Tyson’s view on the economy and the industrialized world’s impact on the climate:

[Tyson] Promotes a pseudo-socialistic view, claiming (wrongly) of our economic system that it assumes resources are “infinite,” and lamenting that it is “profit driven” and thus only focused on “short term gain.”

Wrongfully? Is capitalism not a profit-driven economic system? The free market, the very basis of capitalism, openly condones a “by any means necessary” profit-driven mission. Look at the BP oil spill, our use of fossil fuels, and water contamination in the south. There are endless examples of profits coming before the health of the environment.

They attack his stance on climate change:

[Tyson] Strongly promotes a form of environmental alarmism, pointing to the “scientific consensus that we’re destabilizing our climate,” and claiming that those who disagree with him are “in the grip of denial” and in a “kind of paralysis.”

And they continue to explain why this is so alarming:

Tyson rejects the consensus on panspermia (while failing to disclose that fact). Yet he uses the “consensus” on global warming as a club to bully dissenters. After claiming that climate dissenters are “in the grip of denial,” Tyson says: “Being able to adapt our behavior to challenges is as good a definition of intelligence as I know.” So if you don’t agree with Tyson’s views about global warming and the policies that are necessary to fix it, then you’re either not intelligent, or you’re not using your intelligence. Instead, you’re in “denial.”

Again, Tyson does not need to disclose the scientific consensus on panspermia because he is not asserting it as a fact, just a possibility. Climate change on the other hand is a well-known fact, and he is not wrong in asserting that if you deny it, you are either ignorant of the facts or in denial.

Discovery Institute continues:

For myself, I’m very open to the possibility that the “consensus” on climate change is correct. But I can’t condone the use of propagandistic labels, Nazi-comparisons, and epithets like “science denial” to shut down discussion on an important topic.

This is not surprising; when you are trying to force a debate about evolution for a career you can’t exactly deny climate deniers their chance to spew their ignorance.

Just as denying the evidence for evolution is science denial, so is denying climate change. You are shoving your head in the sand, plugging your ears and deciding that the scientific evidence does not align with your religious views, so you discard it, or at the very least claim it is up for debate.

Well, just like evolution, climate change is not up for debate. The debate is over, and the evidence is in. The anti-science advocates have lost; they could not provide evidence to support their irrational claims, and they now stand by the mantra that there should be a debate. There won’t be.

Once again, Tyson is skewed as a scientific dogmatist who is attacking religion, when week after week religion goes widely untouched, often mentioned only in passing if it has a historical significance to the topic at hand.

Unlike their religion however, science is not based around one man, but the natural evidence that surrounds us. You can take attack any scientist’s character all you want, if the evidence is there, nothing changes.


Emphasis Mine

See: http://www.alternet.org/belief/not-knowing-something-sign-weakness-creationists-think-so?akid=11844.123424.hxoZ1S&rd=1&src=newsletter995794&t=3

What Motivates Rejection of (Climate) Science?

From: Via Portside


Researchers from The University of Western Australia
have examined what motivates people who are greatly
involved in the climate debate to reject scientific

The study Motivated Rejection of Science, to be
published in Psychological Science, was designed to
investigate what motivates the rejection of science in
visitors to climate blogs who choose to participate in
the ongoing public debate about climate change.

More than 1000 visitors to blogs dedicated to
discussions of climate science completed a questionnaire
that queried people’s belief in a number of scientific
questions and conspiracy theories, including: Princess
Diana’s death was not an accident; the Apollo moon
landings never happened; HIV causes AIDS; and smoking
causes lung cancer. The study also considered the
interplay of these responses with the acceptance of
climate science, free market ideology and the belief
that previous environmental problems have been resolved.

The results showed that those who subscribed to one or
more conspiracy theories or who strongly supported a
free market economy were more likely to reject the
findings from climate science as well as other sciences.

The researchers, led by UWA School of Psychology
Professor Stephan Lewandowsky, found that free-market
ideology was an overwhelmingly strong determinant of the
rejection of climate science. It also predicted the
rejection of the link between tobacco and lung cancer
and between HIV and AIDS. Conspiratorial thinking was a
lesser but still significant determinant of the
rejection of all scientific propositions examined, from
climate to lung cancer.

“Blogs have a huge impact on society and so it’s
important that we understand the motivations and the
reasoning of those who visit blogs to contribute to the
discussion. There has been much research pointing to
the role of free-market ideology in rejecting climate
science, but this is the first time it’s been shown that
other scientific facts, such as the link between HIV and
AIDS, are also subject to ideological rejection,”
Professor Lewandowsky said.

By contrast, a major determinant of the acceptance of
science was the perceived consensus among scientists.
The more agreement among scientists, the more people
were likely to accept the scientific findings.

“It is important to understand the role of perceived
consensus because it highlights how damaging the media’s
handling of climate issues can be when they create the
appearance of a scientific debate where there is none:
More than 90 in 100 climate researchers agree on the
basic fact that the globe is warming due to human
greenhouse gas emissions,” Professor Lewandowsky said.”

Media references

Professor Stephan Lewandowsky (UWA School of Psychology)
(+61 8) 6488 3231 / 7862
Michael Sinclair-Jones (UWA Public Affairs) (+61 8)
6488 3229 / (+61 4) 00 700 783

Emphasis Mine


Climate-Change Deniers Have Done Their Job Well

From: Tomgram

By: Bill McKibben

“Here’s the thing about climate-change deniers: these days before they sit down to write their blog posts, they have to turn on the AC.  After all, it might as well be July in New York(where I’m writing this), August in Chicago (where a century-old heat record was broken in late May), and hell at the Indy 500.  Infernos have been raging from New Mexico andColorado, where the fire season started early, to the shores of Lake Superior, where dry conditions and high temperatures led to Michigan’s third largest wildfire in its history.  After aMarch heat wave for the record books, we now have summer in late spring, the second-named tropical storm of the season earlier than ever recorded, and significant drought conditions, especially in the South and Southwest.  In the meantime, carbon dioxide (and other greenhouse gases) continue to head for the atmosphere in record quantities.  And in case anyone living in a big city doesn’t know it, heat can kill.

It’s true that no single event can be pinned on climate change with absolute certainty.  But anyone who doesn’t think we’re in a fierce new world of weather extremes — and asTomDispatch regular Bill McKibben has suggested, on an increasingly less hospitable planet that he calls Eaarth — is likely to learn the realities firsthand soon enough.  Not so long ago, if you really wanted to notice the effects of climate change around you, you had to be an Inuit, an Aleut, or some other native of the far north where rising temperatures and melting ice were visibly changing the landscape and wrecking ways of life — or maybe an inhabitant of Kiribati.  Now, it seems, we are all Inuit or Pacific islanders.  And the latest polling numbers indicate that Americans are finally beginning to notice in their own lives, and in numbers that may matter.

With that in mind, we really do need a new term for the people who insist that climate change is a figment of some left-wing conspiracy or a cabal of miscreant scientists.  “Denial” (or the more active “deniers”) seems an increasingly pallid designation in our new world.  Consider, for instance, that in low-lying North Carolina, a leading candidate for disaster from globally rising sea levels, coastal governments and Republicans in the state legislature are taking action: they are passing resolutions against policies meant to mitigate the damage from rising waters and insisting that official state sea-level calculations be made only on the basis of “historic trends,” with no global warming input.  That should really stop the waters!

In the meantime, this spring greenhouse-gas monitoring sites in the Arctic have recorded a startling first: 400 parts per million of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.  It’s an ominous line to cross (and so quickly).  As in the name of McKibben’s remarkable organization, 350.org, it’s well above the safety line for what this planet and many of the species on it, including us, can take in the long term, and heat-trapping gases in the atmosphere are still on the rise.  All of this is going to get ever harder to “deny,” no matter what resolutions are passed or how measurements are restricted.  In the meantime, the climate-change deniers, McKibben reports, are finally starting to have troubles of their own. Tom

The Planet Wreckers
Climate-Change Deniers Are On the Ropes — But So Is the Planet

By Bill McKibben

It’s been a tough few weeks for the forces of climate-change denial.

First came the giant billboard with Unabomber Ted Kacynzki’s face plastered across it: “I Still Believe in Global Warming. Do You?” Sponsored by the Heartland Institute, the nerve-center of climate-change denial, it was supposed to draw attention to the fact that “the most prominent advocates of global warming aren’t scientists. They are murderers, tyrants, and madmen.” Instead it drew attention to the fact that these guys had over-reached, and with predictable consequences.

A hard-hitting campaign from a new group called Forecast the Facts persuaded many of the corporations backing Heartland to withdraw $825,000 in funding; an entire wing of the Institute, devoted to helping the insurance industry, calved off to form its own nonprofit. Normally friendly politicians like Wisconsin Republican Congressman Jim Sensenbrenner announced that they would boycott the group’s annual conference unless the billboard campaign was ended.

Which it was, before the billboards with Charles Manson and Osama bin Laden could be unveiled, but not before the damage was done: Sensenbrenner spoke at last month’s conclave, but attendance was way down at the annual gathering, and Heartland leaders announced that there were no plans for another of the yearly fests. Heartland’s head, Joe Bast, complained that his side had been subjected to the most “uncivil name-calling and disparagement you can possibly imagine from climate alarmists,” which was both a little rich — after all, he was the guy with the mass-murderer billboards — but also a little pathetic.  A whimper had replaced the characteristically confident snarl of the American right.

That pugnaciousness may return: Mr. Bast said last week that he was finding new corporate sponsors, that he was building a new small-donor base that was “Greenpeace-proof,” and that in any event the billboard had been a fine idea anyway because it had “generated more than $5 million in earned media so far.” (That’s a bit like saying that for a successful White House bid John Edwards should have had more mistresses and babies because look at all the publicity!) Whatever the final outcome, it’s worth noting that, in a larger sense, Bast is correct: this tiny collection of deniers has actually been incredibly effective over the past years.

The best of them — and that would be Marc Morano, proprietor of the website Climate Depot, and Anthony Watts, of the website Watts Up With That — have fought with remarkable tenacity to stall and delay the inevitable recognition that we’re in serious trouble. They’ve never had much to work with.  Only one even remotely serious scientist remains in the denialist camp.  That’s MIT’s Richard Lindzen, who has been arguing for years that while global warming is real it won’t be as severe as almost all his colleagues believe. But as a long article in the New York Times detailed last month, the credibility of that sole dissenter is basically shot.  Even the peer reviewers he approved for his last paper told the National Academy of Sciences that it didn’t merit publication. (It ended up in a “little-known Korean journal.”)

Deprived of actual publishing scientists to work with, they’ve relied on a small troupe of vaudeville performers, featuring them endlessly on their websites. Lord Christopher Monckton, for instance, an English peer (who has been officially warned by the House of Lords to stop saying he’s a member) beganhis speech at Heartland’s annual conference by boasting that he had “no scientific qualification” to challenge the science of climate change.

He’s proved the truth of that claim many times, beginning in his pre-climate-change career when he explained to readers of the American Spectator that “there is only one way to stop AIDS. That is to screen the entire population regularly and to quarantine all carriers of the disease for life.” His personal contribution to the genre of climate-change mass-murderer analogies has been to explain that a group of young climate-change activists who tried to take over a stage where he was speaking were “Hitler Youth.”

Or consider Lubos Motl, a Czech theoretical physicist who has never published on climate change but nonetheless keeps up a steady stream of web assaults on scientists he calls “fringe kibitzers who want to become universal dictators” who should “be thinking how to undo your inexcusable behavior so that you will spend as little time in prison as possible.” On the crazed killer front, Motl said that, while he supported many of Norwegian gunman Anders Breivik’s ideas, it was hard to justify gunning down all those children — still, it diddemonstrate that “right-wing people… may even be more efficient while killing — and the probable reason is that Breivik may have a higher IQ than your garden variety left-wing or Islamic terrorist.”

If your urge is to laugh at this kind of clown show, the joke’s on you — because it’s worked. I mean, James Inhofe, the Oklahoma Republican who has emerged victorious in every Senate fight on climate change, cites Motl regularly; Monckton has testified four times before the U.S. Congress.

Morano, one of the most skilled political operatives of the age — he “broke the story” that became the Swiftboat attack on John Kerry — plays rough: he regularly publishes the email addresses of those he pillories, for instance, so his readers can pile on the abuse. But he plays smart, too. He’s a favorite of Fox News and of Rush Limbaugh, and he and his colleagues have used those platforms to make it anathema for any Republican politician to publicly express a belief in the reality of climate change.

Take Newt Gingrich, for instance.  Only four years ago he was willing to sit on a love seat with Nancy Pelosi and film a commercial for a campaign headed by Al Gore.  In it he explained that he agreed with the California Congresswoman and then-Speaker of the House that the time had come for action on climate. This fall, hounded by Morano, he was forced to recant again and again.  His dalliance with the truth about carbon dioxide hurt him more among the Republican faithful than any other single “failing.”  Even Mitt Romney, who as governor of Massachusetts actually took some action on global warming, has now been reduced to claiming that scientists may tell us “in fifty years” if we have anything to fear.

In other words, a small cadre of fervent climate-change deniers took control of the Republican party on the issue.  This, in turn, has meant control of Congress, and since the president can’t sign a treaty by himself, it’s effectively meant stifling any significant international progress on global warming.  Put another way, the various right wing billionaires and energy companies who have bankrolled this stuff have gotten their money’s worth many times over.

One reason the denialists’ campaign has been so successful, of course, is that they’ve also managed to intimidate the other side. There aren’t many senators who rise with the passion or frequency of James Inhofe but to warn of the dangers of ignoring what’s really happening on our embattled planet.

It’s a striking barometer of intimidation that Barack Obama, who has a clear enough understanding of climate change and its dangers, has barely mentioned the subject for four years.  He did show a little leg to his liberal base in Rolling Stone earlier this spring by hinting that climate change could become a campaign issue.  Last week, however, he passed on his best chance to make good on that promise when he gave a long speech on energy at an Iowa wind turbine factory without even mentioning global warming. Because the GOP has been so unreasonable, the President clearly feels he can take the environmental vote by staying silent, which means the odds that he’ll do anything dramatic in the next four years grow steadily smaller.

On the brighter side, not everyone has been intimidated.  In fact, a spirited counter-movement has arisen in recent years.  The very same weekend that Heartland tried to put the Unabomber’s face on global warming, 350.org conducted thousands of rallies around the globe to show who climate changereally affects. In a year of mobilization, we also managed to block — at least temporarily — the Keystone pipeline that would have brought the dirtiest of dirty energy, tar-sands oil, from the Canadian province of Alberta to the Gulf Coast.  In the meantime, our Canadian allies are fighting hard to block a similar pipeline that would bring those tar sands to the Pacific for export.

Similarly, in just the last few weeks, hundreds of thousands have signed on to demand an end to fossil-fuel subsidies. And new polling data already show more Americans worried about our changing climate, because they’ve noticed the freakish weather of the last few years and drawn the obvious conclusion.

But damn, it’s a hard fight, up against a ton of money and a ton of inertia. Eventually, climate denial will “lose,” because physics and chemistry are not intimidated even by Lord Monckton. But timing is everything — if he and his ilk, a crew of certified planet wreckers, delay action past the point where it can do much good, they’ll be able to claim one of the epic victories in political history — one that will last for geological epochs.

Bill McKibben is Schumann Distinguished Scholar at Middlebury College, founder of the global climate campaign 350.org, a TomDispatch regular, and the author, most recently, of Eaarth: Making a Life on a Tough New Planet.

Emphasis Mine.

see: http://www.tomdispatch.com/archive/175549/

Why Don’t TV Meteorologists Believe (sic) in Climate Change?

From: AlterNet

By: Katherine Bagley

“In recent years, the world’s scientists have begun to show that climate change is altering the magnitude and frequency of severe weather, andpolls say a majority of Americans now link droughts, floods and other extremes to global warming.

And yet, this country’s TV weather forecasters have increasingly taken to denying evidence that warming is affecting weather—or is even happening at all. Only 19 percent accept the established science that human activity is driving climate change, says2011 report by the George Mason University Center for Climate Change Communication, making TV meteorologists far more skeptical than the public at large.

That’s a troubling statistic for some climate advocacy groups, which recently launched the “Forecast the Facts” campaign. Those advocates worry that Americans hungry for information on global warming will seek answers from popular and enterprising TV forecasters who reject the climate science consensus—especially as social media use grows.

“Their denial has the potential to have a huge impact on their viewers,” says Daniel Souweine, co-founder of the nonprofit Citizen Engagement Lab and campaign director of Forecast the Facts.

Climate skeptic forecaster James Spann, for instance, a TV meteorologist in Birmingham, Ala., has almost 98,000 Facebook “likes” and 60,000 Twitter followers, more than any local TV talent in the nation,finds one report. A recent tweet has Spann attacking Bill Nye, the TV host and science educator, for connecting hurricanes to climate change. “Somebody needs to tell this stooge the difference between weather and climate.”

“Local weathercasters are sort of rock stars … and surveys show that the general public cares about what their weathercaster thinks of climate change,” says Edward Maibach, director of the George Mason University Center for Climate Change Communication and lead researcher on several surveys of meteorologists’ global warming views.

But why TV meteorologists veer so far from the opinion of climate scientists is something researchers haven’t yet polled. Experts interviewed for this story cite three main reasons for the disparity: their different levels of confidence in climate models, meteorologists’ lack of education in global warming science and personal politics.

Distrust in Climate Models

About 97 percent of climate researchers believe that climate change is real and caused by humans, according to a recent reportfrom the National Academy of Sciences. Most working meteorologists fall into that camp, says Keith Seitter, the executive director of the American Meteorological Society (AMS). TV forecasters make up a small fraction of meteorologists.

In 2007, the 14,000-member AMS released a statement acknowledging the scientific consensus that human activity is causing the world’s climate to warm. The AMS is the nation’s largest meteorology membership organization.

Seitter says most U.S. meteorologists are researchers, such as state climatologists or those who work at NASA, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), universities and nonprofit institutions. About 10 percent are TV weather reporters, he notes.

They are “unusually skeptical” and “pretty vocal … [This] has caused some conflict within the AMS.” Some members have dropped their membership because of the society’s stance on global warming, Seitter says.

Experts say one answer to the broadcaster/scientist disparity lies in their different levels of confidence in computer models.

While the models TV meteorologists use to forecast weather use the same “physics” as those scientists use to predict long-term climate trends (for instance, the same calculations for how the atmosphere and biosphere interact), the data they plug into them is quite different, explains Keith Dixon, a research meteorologist at NOAA, who focuses on climate variability.

Just using different data produces scenarios with vastly different accuracies, he says.

TV meteorologists generally plug in very localized parameters like current wind speed and sea surface temperatures, which provide clues to rainfall and cloud formation in the immediate future, in a particular area.

Weather models are usually only accurate in predicting five- or seven-day forecasts—if that. A common belief of broadcasters is that climate models are just as fallible.

“The forecasters live in the real world. They know models in general, and they know these models don’t even get tomorrow right,” says Joseph D’Aleo, a well-known climate skeptic and the first director of meteorology at The Weather Channel. “They aren’t going to trust them to be right about what is going to happen in 2100.” Polls show that a vast majority of weathercasters, about 75 percent, distrust models of climate change.

But Dixon says that mistrust isn’t warranted.

He explains that climate scientists crunch different data that plays a large role in determining long-term climate variability, such as the movement of heat within the oceans or the amount of sunlight reaching the Earth’s surface. “We’re making projections about the overall climate,” Dixon says, and that bigger-picture data is what makes long-term predictions so accurate. Plug in current wind speed into those models, he suggests, and the accuracy plummets.

“It’s a bit disappointing that this confusion over the models still exists.”

Seitter of AMS agrees there is a “disconnect” over the models and says it “can be easily fixed.”

“Simply teaching [broadcast meteorologists] about the differences [between weather and climate] models, about how they are essentially the same, but used in different ways, can do a lot to clear up any skepticism.”

State of Meteorology Education

Most research meteorologists have graduate degrees in meteorology or related fields like atmospheric sciences. About half of TV forecasters have bachelor degrees in meteorology, says Maibach of the George Mason University Center for Climate Change Communication. The other half is composed mainly of journalists who were assigned the weather beat.

Prominent broadcast meteorologists who are skeptical of climate science fall into both categories. For instance, John Coleman, co-founder of The Weather Channel and weatherman for KUSI-TV in San Diego—who has described global warming as “a fictional, manufactured crisis and a total scam”—has an undergraduate degree in journalism.

Others, including San Antonio meteorologist Bill Taylor and Cleveland forecasterMark Johnson, both vocal climate skeptics, started with undergraduate degrees in journalism or related fields like communications and later obtained meteorology certifications from Mississippi State University, a three-year distance learning program. Still others, like Brian Bledsoe of KKTV in Colorado and Andre Bernierof WJW in Cleveland, also both known skeptics, hold undergraduate degrees in meteorology.

But even if all TV forecasters had degrees in meteorology would it matter? “There are virtually no undergraduate meteorology programs in the country that have a significant climatology component,” says Bud Ward, editor of the Yale Forum on Climate Change and the Media, part of a Yale climate initiative that has recently turned its attention to this issue.

“You can go through your whole degree without ever having taken a course on climate.”

Even those programs considered top in the nation—such as Penn State and the University of Oklahoma—are only now adding global warming science to their curricula, though they have long taught the fundamentals of how the climate system works.

Bill Brune, an atmospheric chemist and head of Penn State’s Department of Meteorology, says that students are exposed to concepts of climate science in two required classes—a survey course on atmospheric sciences and an upper-level undergraduate course called Radiation and Climate.

“In these and other courses, students are shown the changes in atmospheric composition and their impacts on atmospheric science and climate. The words ‘climate change’ … do not necessarily appear on the course descriptions, but they are in the course syllabi or lectures.”

Brune says changes are afoot. The course Climate Dynamics, currently an elective for meteorology students, was approved as a requirement starting next year. The class will cover climate change and its human influences, Brune notes.

Most undergraduate programs, including the University of Oklahoma, have added optional climate-related coursework during the past few years, a decision that some experts say could portend an increase in the number of forecasters who accept human-caused climate change.

D’Aleo, formerly of The Weather Channel and a former professor of meteorology at Lyndon State College of Vermont, says that introducing climate science into curricula will bias students against the belief that long-term climate change is driven by natural forces.

“When I was a professor years ago, we taught students how to think, not what to think,” he says.

AMS and the National Weather Association (NWA), the other major U.S. professional organization for meteorologists, offer optional broadcast meteorology certification programs. To obtain AMS certification, forecasters have to take courses on a range of topics from atmospheric physics to remote sensing, to pass a written exam and to have their on-air work and forecasts reviewed.

The AMS doesn’t require climate science coursework to earn certification. Nor does the society test forecasters’ global warming knowledge during the exam. “There is no discussion of changing the requirements to include [climate change],” says Seitter of AMS. The certification program is geared toward making sure broadcasters have adequate knowledge of forecasting, “since this is what these guys are getting paid to do.”

Seitter notes that forecasters are encouraged to take global warming courses on their own.

To get NWA certification, TV meteorologists similarly have to pass a written exam and have their work critiqued by the society. Applicants are not tested on their climate change knowledge.

Souweine of Forecast the Facts believes the AMS and NWA programs need to change. “A certification for meteorologists that has no requirement for them to be able to speak intelligently and in an informed way about climate change seems like an empty certification,” he says.

Souweine says the campaign plans to put pressure on both societies to require such coursework.

But whether or how a weathercaster chooses to discuss climate change may come down to something harder to influence, says Maibach: their personal politics and beliefs.

In recent years, climate change has become a partisan lighting rod, with the majority of Democrats, about two-thirds, believing that Earth’s temperature is rising from human activity, with only one-third of Republicans agreeing with them, say polls.

No candidate who was vying for the GOP presidential nomination admitted to the scientific consensus, even if they supported climate policy in the past.

Meteorologists are not immune, says Maibach. “Climate change has become so politically polarized that someone’s party affiliation is now the dominant lens through which people come to look at the issue—even if they have scientific training.”

Maibach says he believes that personal politics are so central to views on climate change that he is considering asking TV meteorologists to state their party affiliations in upcoming surveys.

Audience Expectations

Weathercasters are often the only people at their stations with scientific backgrounds. As a result, they often engage in on-air chit-chat with news anchors on science issues, including global warming. They also write articles for the station’s website and are frequently invited to give guest lectures at schools and various community organizations.

For many Americans, their TV weatherperson is the only climate-related authority they encounter each day.

“Most Americans are never going to know who the world’s major climate scientists are, but they know who their weatherperson is,” Souweine says. According to a survey by Maibach and colleagues, more than three-quarters of TV meteorologists say they have discussed the topic of global warming either on or off air.

The Yale Project on Climate Change Communication has hosted workshops across the country that connect TV weathercasters with climate scientists. During the day-long event, climate scientists discuss the link between climate change and weather, address the latest science and help meteorologists understand how global warming will affect their regions. “We go into this realistically,” says Ward, the editor of the forum and workshop organizer. “We know we are not always going to change people’s opinions, so that is not our goal. We just want to provide them with accurate information and give them avenues to ask questions.”

But some, like D’Aleo, who is no longer on the air but runs a website calledICECAP, which promotes views of climate skeptics, say global warming should be off limits to forecasters.

“It is not our role,” he says. “And in fact, many station managers have told forecasters not to do it, because if you take one side or another it will alienate a percentage of your audience and you might lose them.” In 2010, D’Aleo did anon-air segment with Coleman in San Diego, in which he accuses climate scientists of manipulating temperature data on global warming.

Souweine of Forecast the Facts says that silence isn’t an option. “Viewers do care about this … They feel it is the job of the news to tell them what is going on, and [climate change] is the biggest weather story of the 21st century.

When they don’t mention climate change while reporting on another set of record high temperatures or unprecedented severe weather,” Souweine continues, “it is like a news reporter talking about a string of murders and not mentioning there is a suspect in custody.”

InsideClimate News intern Kathryn Doyle contributed reporting to this story.

Republished with permission of InsideClimate News, a non-profit, non-partisan news organization that covers energy and climate change—plus the territory in between where law, policy and public opinion are shaped.

Emphasis Mine


Why Does Religion Always Get a Free Ride?

From: AlterNet

By: Greta Christina

Why should religion, alone among all other kinds of ideas, be free from attempts to persuade people out of it?

We try to persuade people out of ideas all the time. We try to persuade people that their ideas about science, politics, philosophy, art, medicine, and more, are wrong: that they’re harmful, ridiculous, repulsive, or simply mistaken. But when it comes to religion, trying to persuade people out of their ideas is somehow seen as horribly rude at best, invasive and bigoted and intolerant at worst. Why? Why should religion be the exception?

I’ve been writing about atheism for about six years now. In those six years, I’ve asked this question more times and not once have I gotten a satisfying answer. In fact, only once do I recall getting any answer at all. Besides that one exception, what I’ve gotten in response has been crickets chirping and tumbleweeds blowing by. I’ve been ignored, I’ve had the subject changed, I’ve had people get personally nasty, I’ve had people abandon the conversation altogether. But only once have I ever gotten any kind of actual answer. And that answer sucked. (I’ll get to it in a bit.) I’ve heard lots of people tell me, at length and with great passion, that trying to persuade people out of their religion is bad and wrong and mean… but I haven’t seen a single real argument explaining why this is such a terrible thing to do with religion, and yet is somehow perfectly okay to do with all other ideas.

So I want to get to the heart of this matter. Why should religion be treated differently from all other kinds of ideas? Why shouldn’t we criticize it, and make fun of it, and try to persuade people out of it, the way we do with every other kind of idea?

In a free society, in the marketplace of ideas, we try to persuade people out of ideas all the time. We criticize ideas we disagree with; we question ideas we find puzzling; we excoriate ideas we find repugnant; we make fun of ideas we think are silly. And we think this is acceptable. In fact, we think it’s positively good. We think this is how good ideas rise to the surface, and bad ideas get filtered out. We might have issues with exactly how this persuasion is carried out: is it done politely or rudely, reasonably or hysterically, did you really have to bring it up at Thanksgiving dinner, etc. But the basic idea of trying to convince other people that your ideas are right and theirs are wrong… this is not controversial.

Except when it comes to religion.


Religion is an idea about the world. Thousands of different ideas, really, but with one basic idea at the core of them all: the idea of the supernatural. Religion is the hypothesis that the world is the way that it is, entirely or in part, because of supernatural beings or forces acting on the natural world. It’s an idea about how the world works — every bit as much as the germ theory of disease, or the theory that matter is made up of atoms, or the wacky notion that the Earth revolves around the Sun.

And religion is a very specific kind of idea about the world. Religion is a truth claim. It’s not a subjective matter of personal experience or opinion, like, “I’m a one-woman man,” or “Harry Potter is better than Lord of the Rings.” It is a statement about what is and is not literally true in the non-subjective world.

So if we think it’s a mistaken idea, why shouldn’t we try to convince other people of that?

We do this with every other kind of truth claim. If people think that disease is caused by demonic possession, or that global climate change is a hoax, or that deregulating the financial industry will lead to a robustly healthy economy for all levels of society — and we think these people are wrong — we try to change their minds. Why should religion be any different?

Now, of course, religion is more than just an idea. People build communities, personal identities, support systems, coping mechanisms, entire life philosophies, around their religious beliefs.

But people build identities around other ideas, too. People have intense political identities, for instance: people are often deeply attached to their identity as a progressive, a Republican or a libertarian. People build communities around these ideas, and support systems, and coping mechanisms, and life philosophies. And we still think it’s entirely valid, and even positively worthwhile, to try to change people’s minds about these ideas if we think they’re wrong.

Why should religion be any different?

It’s also the case that letting go of religious beliefs can be upsetting, even traumatic. In the short term anyway. Most atheists say that they’re happy to have let go of their religion… but many do go through a short period of trauma while they’re letting go.

But it can be upsetting, and even traumatic, to let go of all kinds of ideas. It can be upsetting and traumatic to learn that the clothes and chocolate and electronics you’re buying are made by slave labor; that the food you’re feeding your children is bad for them; that you have unconscious racist or sexist attitudes; that driving your car is contributing to global climate change and the possible permanent destruction of the environment.

And yet we still think it’s valid, and even positively worthwhile, to try to change people’s minds about these ideas if we think they’re wrong.

Why should religion be any different?

Yes, there’s a tremendous diversity of religious ideas — a diversity that makes up a large part of our complex cultural tapestry. But we have a tremendous diversity of ideas about politics, too… and about science, and race, and gender, and sexuality, and more. When we look at our history, our complex cultural tapestry has included alchemy, and Jim Crow laws, and preventing women from voting, and curing the “disease” of masturbation, and treating yellow fever epidemics by shooting cannonballs into the air. The world is better off without those ideas. We still have a rich cultural tapestry of diverse lifestyles and worldviews without them. And we still think it was entirely valid, and even positively worthwhile, to try to change people’s minds about these ideas when we thought they were wrong.

Why should religion be any different?

It’s also true that persuading people out of their religion is often seen as proselytizing or evangelizing. Proselytizing or evangelizing about religion has a bad reputation. And there are good reasons for that. Religious evangelists have an ugly history of fearmongering, deception, outright lying, applying economic pressure, using law or force or even violence, to “persuade” people out of their religious beliefs. Not to mention the little matter of knocking on people’s doors at eight o’clock on Saturday morning. It’s no wonder people are resistant to it.

But if that’s not what atheists are advocating? If we’re not advocating any sort of force or coercion, or even any sort of pressure apart from the mild social pressure created by people not wanting to look foolish by hanging onto bad ideas? If what we’re advocating is writing blog posts, writing magazine articles, writing books, wearing T-shirts, putting up billboards, getting into conversations with our friends and families, getting into debates on Facebook? If what we’re advocating is getting our atheist ideas more widely disseminated and understood, and creating atheist communities so people who share our ideas feel safer expressing them? If what we’re advocating is essentially standing up and saying, “The emperor has no clothes” — and offering the best evidence and arguments we can for the emperor’s nakedness?

What is so terrible about that? We do that with every other kind of idea. Why shouldn’t we do it with religion?

Why should religion be any different?

And it’s certainly true that, throughout history, many attempts to “persuade” people out of their religion have resulted in persecution — or have provided the rationalization for it. Human beings have an ugly, bloody, terrible history of persecuting each other over religious differences: anti-Catholic hostility in America in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, anti-Muslim hostility in much of Europe today, the Crusades, the Holocaust… the list goes on. And religious persecution often goes hand-in-hand with classism, jingoistic nationalism, ethnic hatreds, and racism — rendering it even uglier. A lot of people can only see persuading people out of religion in this context of persecution, and are horrified by it. And while I disagree with their ultimate analysis, I can certainly understand their horror.

But religion isn’t the only idea whose adherents have historically been targeted with persecution. Political ideas certainly have been. To take an obvious example: Look at Communism. People who thought Communism was a good idea had their lives utterly destroyed. Even if they weren’t actually trying to overthrow the government. Even if all they were doing was writing, or creating art, or gassing on in cafes with their friends. Even if they weren’t really Communists. McCarthyism and other Red scares destroyed the lives of countless people who were simply suspected of being Communists. And like religious persecution, anti-Communist fervor has often been closely tied with nationalism, ethnic hostilities, and more. Immigrants from Eastern Europe, for instance, were often feared and despised as “dirty Commies,” with the political hostility becoming inextricably tangled with the xenophobic nationalism, and each form of hostility feeding the other.

Does that mean we shouldn’t criticize Communism? Does that mean that, if we think Communism isn’t a particularly good system for structuring an economy, we should just keep our mouths shut?

When we criticize religion — just as when we criticize any other kind of idea — we do need to make sure that criticism of the idea doesn’t turn into persecution of its adherents. We need to draw a careful line between criticizing ideas and marginalizing people. We need to remember that people who disagree with us are still people, deserving of basic compassion and respect.

But we need to draw that line with every kind of idea. Political, scientific, artistic ideas — all of them. And we don’t exempt any other kind of idea from criticism, just because that kind of idea has often been targeted with persecution.

Why should religion be any different?

Why should religion be treated any differently from any other kind of idea about the world? Why, alone among all other ideas, should it be protected from criticism, questions, mockery when it’s ridiculous, excoriation when it’s appalling? Why, alone among all other ideas, should we not try to persuade people out of it if we think it’s mistaken?

Why should religion be the exception?

I’ve asked this question more times than I can remember. And I’ve only ever gotten one straight answer. In one argument on Facebook (which was ages ago, so unfortunately I can’t find it and link to it), the person I was debating argued that religious debates and disagreements have a bad history. All too often, they’ve led to hostility, hatred, tribalism, bigotry, even violence and wars. Therefore, he argued, it was best to just avoid debates about the topic altogether.

You know what? He’s right. When it comes to the divisiveness of religion, he’s totally right.

And that’s an argument for my side — not his.

I completely agree with his basic assessment. Religion does tend to be more divisive than other topics. It’s a point Daniel Dennet made in his book, Breaking the Spell: In a weird but very real psychological paradox, people tend to defend ideas more ferociously when we don’t have very good evidence supporting them.

Look at it this way. If people come over the hill and tell us that the sky is orange, we can clearly see that the sky is blue… so we can easily shrug off their ridiculous idea, and we don’t feel a powerful need to defend our own perception. But if people come over the hill and tell us that God comes in three parts, one of whom is named Jesus, and this three-in-one god really wants us not to eat meat on Fridays — and we think there is no god but Allah, and he really wants us to never eat pork or draw pictures of real things — we don’t have any way to settle the disagreement. The only evidence supporting our belief is, “My parents tell me,” My religious leader tells me,” “My holy book tells me,” or “I feel it in my heart.” And if we care about our belief — if it’s not some random trivial opinion, if it’s central to our personal and social identity — we have a powerful tendency to double down, to entrench ourselves more deeply and more passionately in our belief. We can’t have a rational, evidence-based debate about the matter. The only way to defend our own belief is with bigotry, tribalism, and violence.

But if religious differences really are more likely to lead to bigotry, tribalism, violence, etc.… doesn’t that show what a bad idea it is? If the ideas of religion are so poorly rooted in reality that there’s no way to resolve differences other than forming battle lines and screaming or shooting across them… doesn’t that strongly suggest that this is a truly crappy idea, and humanity should let go of it? Doesn’t that suggest that persuading people out of it is a really good thing to do?

So yeah. This wasn’t such a great answer. But at least it was an answer. At least it wasn’t a changing of the topic, a moving of the goalposts, a deterioration into personal insult, a complete abandonment of the conversation altogether. Every other time that I’ve asked, “Why should religion, alone among all other kinds of ideas, be free from attempts to persuade people out of it?” I’ve been met with what was essentially silence.

I’ve gotten tremendous hostility over the years for my attempts to persuade people out of religion. I’ve been called a racist and a cultural imperialist, trying to stamp out the beautiful tapestry of human diversity and make everyone in the world exactly like me. I’ve been called a fascist, have been compared to Stalin and Glenn Beck. My atheist activism has beencompared to the genocide of the Native Americans. I’ve even been called “evil in one of its purest forms” — as have many other atheist writers; I’m hardly the only target of this. All this, for trying to persuade people that their idea is mistaken, and our idea is correct. The atheism itself gets hostile opposition as well, of course: it gets called immoral, amoral, hopeless, meaningless, joyless, and more. But the very idea of presuming to engage in this debate — the very idea of putting religion on one side of a chessboard and atheism on the other, and seeing which one gets check-mated — is regularly treated as a bigoted and intolerant violation of the basic principles of human discourse.

And yet when I ask why — why it’s okay to persuade people out of other ideas but not this one, why religion alone should be exempt from the vigorous criticism that every other idea is expected to stand up to, why religion alone should get a free ride in the marketplace of ideas (and a free ride in an armored car at that), why religion should be the sole exception — I’ve only ever gotten one crappy answer, one time.

Does anyone have a better answer?

Or any answer at all?

Read more of Greta Christina at her blog.

Emphasis Mine